Volleyball

Zacchio: Court jesters keep team morale high

Many successful volleyball teams have a player that provides a spark of positivity, often in unconventional ways.

Panas’ Demi Spanos and Melissa Lussier defend a shot from Horseheads’ Megyan Merrill during a Class A regional final at John Jay High School in Cross River on Nov. 14, 2015.

Panas’ Demi Spanos and Melissa Lussier defend a shot from Horseheads’ Megyan Merrill during a Class A regional final at John Jay High School in Cross River on Nov. 14, 2015.

When Demi Spanos transferred from Harrison to Panas for her freshman year in 2014, she already knew several girls on the volleyball team from club ball. The happy-go-lucky free spirit said she didn’t think twice about toning down her eccentric ways upon joining her new team.

“I was kind of just me,” said Spanos, who said she gets her bubbly, upbeat personality from her father.

Spanos is not hard to spot on the volleyball court. If her thick brunette hair — which flows down to just above her hips — or her constant smile doesn’t give her away, her dance moves are sure to do the trick.

“I feel like when I get like that, it kind of brings everybody to a happier state of mind,” Spanos said Saturday night, after Panas defended its Panther Invitational tournament title. “I think everybody needs that sometimes. I hate when somebody is really upset, so I want to bring them up, just joke around and make them laugh.”

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The Panas girls are rap music aficionados, from players singing along to the pregame tunes, to sophomore Jenn Braun doing her own rendition of the wildly popular “TZ Anthem” dance. Kendrick Lamar has become the team’s go-to artist.

Naturally, it was Spanos who implemented the seven-time Grammy winner into the team’s musical repertoire. “Demi is crazy,” Panas junior Yvette Burcescu said, chuckling. “When she’s dancing, everyone’s going to join her.”

Demi Spanos (13), Bridget Walsh (7) and Lauren Feeley (6) throw up a triple block against Yorktown in the Section 1 Class A championship volleyball game at Hendrick Hudson High School in Montrose on Nov. 6, 2015.

Demi Spanos (13), Bridget Walsh (7) and Lauren Feeley (6) throw up a triple block against Yorktown in the Section 1 Class A championship volleyball game at Hendrick Hudson High School in Montrose on Nov. 6, 2015.

For a sport that requires an exceptional level of team chemistry in order to be successful, having a spark plug like Spanos on the team can often break up the tension and calm the nerves of players on the court.

From liberos making sure their arms are at the proper angle to make an accurate pass, to setters making sure their hands are even in order to make a clean set, to hitters making sure they time their jump and contact angle perfectly to register a kill, so much of the game revolves around hyper-focused concentration and pinpoint accuracy that a good laugh once and a while is often exactly what a team needs.

The key is making sure that “lightening the mood” doesn’t become “goofing around.” Many of the section’s most successful players and teams have mastered the ability to not cross that line.

Yorktown setter Macey Drezek has made a habit of doing the “Millie Rock” — another popular hip-hop dance — during matches, but whenever the Huskers need to lock in and get serious, the junior’s beaming smile fades into a stoic scowl. Yorktown head coach Katy Sherwood said she loves the energy Drezek brings to the team.

Yorktown setter Macey Drezek (10) and the Huskers cheer after winning a point during a varsity volleyball match against Hendrick Hudson at Yorktown High School Oct. 13, 2016.

Yorktown setter Macey Drezek (10) and the Huskers cheer after winning a point during a varsity volleyball match against Hendrick Hudson at Yorktown High School Oct. 13, 2016.

When Yorktown won its semifinal against John Jay last year, then-senior libero Abby Ferri said “the magic happens” when the bench is loud and spirits are high.

Westlake players were swinging around a rubber chicken on the sideline during their playoff match against Pawling at the Panther Invitational, but kept the yellow-painted ornithological creature by their side whenever they were in a stew.

“They’re carrying that rubber chicken everywhere,” Westlake head coach Carmen Bates said, with a smile. “They were throwing it at each other (Friday) at practice.”

Bates, who has notched 24 years of varsity coaching experience, said she has seen firsthand how toxic one player’s negative attitude or demeanor can be to the team as a whole.

“It just seems like one negative person can bring down a team,” she said. “Every team that I’ve had that’s been successful has had great chemistry together and are able to feed off each other and pull each other up.”

Twitter: @Zacchio_LoHud

Walter Panas defeated Yorktown in the Section 1 Class A championship volleyball game at Hendrick Hudson High School in Montrose Nov 6, 2015.

Walter Panas defeated Yorktown in the Section 1 Class A championship volleyball game at Hendrick Hudson High School in Montrose Nov 6, 2015.